I have a deep connection to Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It connects me to my childhood, my mother and to values that I hold dear. It was a joy to be able to recreate some of my favorite scenes from the Christmas chapter through toy photography. 

“One morning Ma boiled molasses and sugar together until they made a thick syrup, and Pa brought in two pans of clean, white snow from outdoors.  Laura and Mary each had a pan, and Pa and Ma showed them how to pour the dark syrup on to the snow.  These hardened at once and were candy.”

My connection to this American story began when a teacher read it aloud to my grade school class. My mom later told me that the same teacher had read the book to her at about the same age! Shortly after this introduction to the series, I began to receive two hardcover books each year until I owned them all.  

 “They were too excited to sleep.  But they must sleep, or Santa Claus would not come.  So they hung their stockings by the fireplace, and said their prayers, and went to bed.”

While the adventures that Laura wrote about were exciting, the stories spoke to my young soul on a deeper level. I connected with the comfort, security, and love that she felt towards her family. These are the same feelings I feel when I look at the books and think of my own mom. I will always feel connected to her through these books and our shared experience of them. 

“Ma said, ‘Charles, those children will never get to sleep unless you play for them.’  So Pa got his fiddle.  The room was still and warm and full of firelight.  And Laura went to sleep while Pa and the fiddle were both softly singing.”

While recreating the Christmas chapter I reflected on how life seemed so much simpler then. The absence of commercialism made the holiday season about love and giving from the heart. I imagine how Ma must have felt seeing her daughters’ joy over a simple pair of hand-knitted mittens or a homemade rag doll. I want my own photos of these events to convey the feelings of comfort, security, and love that I connected to as a child.

 “In the morning they all woke up almost at the same moment.  They looked at their stockings and something was in them.  In each stocking there was a pair of bright red mittens, and there was a long, flat stick of red-and-white-striped peppermint candy.”

Several years ago, my husband helped me make the dollhouse and the dolls were purchased from a seller on Etsy. I completed the scene by hand stitching the clothes, quilts, stockings, and mittens. Even though my cloth dolls are poseable, they’re not able to stand on their own. Lucky for me the long dresses and rag rugs helped to hide the stands. 

 “But Laura was happiest of all.  Laura had a rag doll.  Laura sat down on the edge of the bed and held her doll.  She loved her red mittens and she loved the candy, but she loved her doll best of all.  She named her Charlotte.”

When I want one of the characters to hold an item, I must actually stitch it into place. While miniature doll food is readily available online, molasses candy was not. And because making the molasses candy is such an important part of the story, I created my own by using white felt and brown embroidery floss.  

   “For breakfast there were pancakes, and Ma made a pancake man for each one of the children.  It was exciting to watch her turn the whole little man over, quickly and carefully, on a hot griddle.  When it was done, she put it smoking hot on the plate.”

Creating each scene was a meticulous and painstaking process. One little bump and everything goes flying. But creating these scenes gave me lots of time to play with my dolls and dollhouse. How I would have loved to have this as a child!  But now, as a toy photographer I have a great excuse to play whenever I want. 

 “Today the weather was so cold that they could not play outdoors.  They all sat on the floor together and looked at the pictures in the Bible, and the pictures of all kinds of animals and birds in Pa’s big green book.”
 “Then there was Christmas dinner.  They did not need to ask for seconds.  Ma kept their plates full and let them eat all the good things they could hold.’
 “And Christmas was over.  But what a happy Christmas it had been!”

Happy holidays from me and all my friends from the Little House in the Big Woods.


You can see more of Jane’s nature and toy photography on her instagram feed: @jane.simao.14.